Putting children first – how a child contact centre may help

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If you would like more details about Child Contact Centres generally (such as how to find a local one, how to make a referral etc) then have a look at the NACCC website naccc.org.uk

When parents separate or divorce, the relationships between the adults can be difficult but most children want to maintain a relationship with both their Mum and Dad and as well with other important and well established family members.

Studies have shown that children can encounter more difficulties in life, such as emotional or behavioural problems, if they don’t have a good relationship with both parents. Who would want that for their children?

So, what help is there for separated parents if there are problems in sorting out the contact arrangements? These problems could arise for various reasons including breakdown of communication/agreement, conflict between the parents, contact not taking place for a long time or if either parent can’t or won’t see the other.

Well, a Child Contact Centre may be able to help.

A Child Contact Centre aims to provide a safe neutral comfortable place for children to see the parent they don’t live with or sometimes other close family members.

There are Child Contact Centres all over the world. The National Association of Child Contact Centres (known as NACCC for short) is the supporting membership body for about 350 Child Contact Centres in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. Have a look at their website on naccc.org.uk which has lots of really useful information and much more than I can compress into this blog. According to their website there are over 4000 volunteers and staff who work in these Centres and over 17,000 children use and benefit from them every year.

I am frequently asked “What is a Child Contact Centre and what does it do?”

There are 2 main types of Centre and service offered being Supported Contact and Supervised Contact.

SUPPORTED CONTACT

Supported Contact is offered in various different community locations usually run by trained and checked out volunteers who will try to give everyone a warm welcome and to make the visit as beneficial and enjoyable as possible for the children and the adults. They can also help out with handover arrangements.

Such Supported Centres are suitable for families where no significant risk to the child or others has been identified. A fee may be charged. The basic elements of a Supported Centre (as confirmed by the NACCC website) are

  • Impartiality
  • Staff and volunteers are available for assistance but there is no monitoring or evaluation of individual contacts/conversations.
  • Several families may be using the same room together at the Centre
  • Families will be encouraged to develop mutual trust
  • NO detailed reports are made unless there is a risk of harm

Anyone can apply to use a Centre or they may be helped by their mediator, solicitor, CAFCASS officer or social worker. The particular circumstances of a situation and any possible risks will be fully assessed by the Centre before setting up any arrangements to start using the Centre.

I have been involved with Child Contact Centres for about 25 years, initially in setting up a local Supported Contact centre and now assisting in the management. I think the ideas behind using a Child Contact Centre are similar to Family Mediation. It may not be required or suitable for everyone and it may not provide a solution but it is a potential opportunity to assist separated families. Centres provide estranged parents with the possibility of stepping stones to support them working together as parents, when no longer partners, which gives their children the opportunity of growing up knowing, loving and being loved by both parents.

SUPERVISED CONTACT

Supervised contact is used when it has been determined that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm during contact. There are stringent detailed requirements for this contact and usually referrals will be made by a Court, CAFCASS Officer or Local Authority.

If you would like more details about Child Contact Centres generally (such as how to find a local one, how to make a referral etc) then have a look at the NACCC website naccc.org.uk

Janette Wood